Have you ever read something and then said, “damn, I wish I’d written that?
I do it frequently, but especially today with this piece, especially, by the renowned skeptic, Vanderleun:
Theirs was the Age of Myth; a world where night was not dimmed by the web of lights that now obscures the stars. Their nights were lit by flaring torches, dim oil lamps, guttering candles; by the phases of the moon and the broad shimmering river of the Milky Way. As the sun declined and night ascended, life withdrew into shuttered and barred homes. Only the very rich or the very poor were abroad in the dark.
The night sky, now so thin and distant, so seldom really seen, was to them as thick and close as a handful of coal studded with diamonds. They could turn it in their mind’s eye even as it turned above them. They reclined on their hill sides, their roofs, or in rooms built for viewing and marking the moon and the stars. They watched it all revolve above them and sang the centuries down. They remembered. They kept records and told tales. They saw beings in the heavens — gods and animals, giants and insects, all sparking the origins of myth — and they knew that in some way all was connected to all; as above, so below, “on Earth as it is in Heaven”. They studied the patterns of it all and from those repeating patterns fashioned our first science, astrology.
Somewhere around 5 B.C. three of the world’s leading astronomers/astrologers noticed something unusual in the sky. It could have been a comet. It could have been a supernova. It could have been a rare conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter. Whatever it was, it was strange enough for them to travel towards it. Or so it is said. Or so it is written. Or so it is remembered from the time of myth.
Myth or history? What is the reality of this road trip towards an obscure birth in a wretched town, during a not very pleasant passage in history, over 2,000 years in our past?
We do not know. We cannot know. As it is in so much else that we ignore it is not given to us to know.
In 2004 Time and Newsweek, endeavored, in their ham-fisted way, to gin up some circulation with articles that purported to “examine” the miracles surrounding the intersection of the divine with a world now buried two millennia deep in the ash of the Earth. We shall probably see the same sort of thing this year. The cheapening of the spirit in this culture,”the expense of reason in a waste of shame,” by those whose lamp of the soul burns low, is now as predicable as the winter solstice.
Do read it all. It is the sort of piece you cannot write unless you have been on the other side of faith at some point in your life. That’s part of the splendid mystery of how God brings all things to Himself; even using our former doubt to enhance and sharpen belief, when finally we come to it. It’s why we must be patient and charitable with others – and with ourselves – on the journey of faith. Divergent roads, sometimes wildly divergent ones, still somehow manage to lead us to the star, if only we keep ourselves opened.
Vanderleun’s piece reminds me of something I wrote a long while back:
Does the fact that we can no longer see the stars have anything to do with our loss of wonder?…It seems like when we were more aware of milky ways and horizons, it was easier to believe. Could Joan of Arc have led her army, could she even have thought to, could she have trusted enough, without having a sense of something greater, bigger than herself?
We have obliterated the stars with our artificial light – but perhaps we’ve blinded ourselves, too. Without the wonder, the greatness of the galaxies in our sight, we’ve lost the ability to believe in, or expect, miracles. When you cannot see the glory of God’s creation, how can you wish to glorify the Lord? No longer seeing anything greater than ourselves, we turn inward, we worship our own thoughts, our invention, our desire.
That’s so much dross seen next to Gerard’s sublime bit of writing, but I’m glad to know we’ve made a similar trek. He tends to out-write and out-think me pretty regularly, of course. His “Go With the Throw” meditation was the strongest part of the 2008 Online Retreat.
He also gives a headsup to this breathtaking “Hubble Telescope Advent Calendar. What beauty!
Slightly O/T but important to say: The other day in writing about the importance of intercessory prayer, I highlighted the audio samples of this remarkable CD. Well, I received the recording just two days after I ordered it, and I must tell you these Benedictines of Mary, have something very special, here. I had not realized that the CD features mostly original compositions “by a Benedictine of Mary,” some talented woman who remains anonymous in touching humility. This is gorgeous music, beautifully sung and recording. Serious goosebumps and real prayer in these tones. I’m highly recommending it.
I may put a little of it in the background of my next podcast, so you can hear – if I can figure out how to do that.